Published October 6, 2022 | Version v1
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Engaging Crowds: citizen research and cultural heritage data at scale


The Engaging Crowds project explores citizen research[1] in cultural heritage: people using digital, usually web-based technologies to contribute to knowledge about collections. At its best, citizen research can create a virtuous circle of participation and shared new knowledge about our national collection. Members of the public can engage with collections deeply and richly, developing and sharing their expertise and building meaningful relationships with our shared heritage. Cultural heritage practitioners can select collections of focus, including those that have been underrepresented or overlooked. Heritage organisations benefit from the new insights produced through these projects, feeding new knowledge into shared digital resources such as catalogues or digital archives.

This virtuous circle requires energy to keep its momentum. Crowdsourcing relies on the generosity of citizen researchers donating their time and skills to projects. It relies on collections and digital infrastructures, including people’s expertise, for crowdsourcing platforms, collections digitisation, project design, ongoing engagement with the public throughout the life of a project, and undertaking to use the data that is produced well.

We engage in crowdsourcing because we care about the collections and the community. This work, paid or voluntary, involves commitment and emotional labour. The ethics of crowdsourcing must be at the front of our minds: ethics inform our values which are evident in every aspect of our work, from first reaching out to a community to sharing the final data. Citizen research is not a ‘cheap option for cataloguing’; it is an opportunity to develop and nurture sustained relationships of mutual benefit between collections and the public and requires ongoing resources from across organisations.

To create “a unified virtual ‘national collection’”[2] we need to create and understand collections data so we can make links and create new knowledge. Other Towards a National Collection (TaNC) Foundation and Discovery Projects explore aspects of automation; Engaging Crowds explores how citizen research can help with this. By definition, crowdsourcing supports TaNC’s aim to increase ”public access beyond the physical boundaries” of collections locations, and can contribute towards becoming more inclusive, redressing the demographic and geographic imbalance in cultural heritage.[3]


[1] We use the terms ‘citizen research’ and ‘crowdsourcing’ interchangeably in our work.


[3] Many cultural heritage organisations have increasing inclusion as a strategic aim, including for example The National Archives’ Archives for Everyone <>.



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Additional details


Towards a National Collection Programme Directorate AH/V000802/1
UK Research and Innovation